Jolly Old Nick

Even though I predicted this day would come and have steeled myself against it way back on February 28, 2012, and even though his contract is on the high side of his value and would probably be regrettable by 2015, this still sucks. Jolly Old Nick Swisher is no longer a member of the New York Yankees. Allowing Russell Martin to walk stung and was bewildering. But allowing Nick Swisher to prance to Cleveland and to play on Terry Francona‘s side is downright painful.  Nick Swisher was fun. He made me smile. My wife loves him and enjoyed laughing at his antics. She will personify a lot of Yankee fans today. Her disappointment will be the same as many. God save 2014 at all costs, Hal. Attaboy.

Nick Swisher as a Yankee star was one of the biggest surprises ever. He was an afterthought in the 2009 preseason for us after he came over with Kanekoa Texeira from the White Sox for Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez. What we were really excited about back then was Xavier Nady who came over in the season before with Damaso Marte for Russ Ohlandorf, Jeff Karstens, Jose Tabata and Daniel McCutchen. Nady before 2009 was sort of the same sort of player as Swisher has been for the Yankees the last four seasons. Swisher was going to be the fourth outfielder.

But seven games into 2009 on April 14, Nady blew out his elbow and had to have Tommy John surgery. He was gone for the season. Swisher became the starting right-fielder and the rest is Yankee history. While Nady did not work out as one of Brian Cashman’s finer moments, Nick Swisher is arguably Cashman’s finest. The White Sox practically gave Swisher away after his 2008 season with that club. He hit .219 that season. But the White Sox clearly did not understand the new baseball statistics back then because Swisher was an on-base machine for the White Sox even in his bad season. He had walked 279 times in two years for Oakland and his downer season for the White Sox. He hit 81 homers in those three years. But most of us did not know our baseball math back then either. When Nady came running in with his arm all unraveled, it was a calamity.

Instead it turned into solid production for Nick Swisher for four seasons. In those four seasons, his OPS+ remained over 120. His wOBA never dipped below .360. His lowest on-base percentage in those years was .359. And after his 2009 season, he became a proficient fielder as well. I would go so far as to say that in many ways, Nick Swisher was the glue that held the Yankees’ lineup together. He did not care where he batted. He would bat second, fifth, sixth, seventh or whatever. He didn’t care. His production did not care. Many Swisher detractors say that he never hit .300 or drove in or scored a hundred runs. Oh please, are we still stuck on those numbers? Nick Swisher was a very good player for the Yankees.

How good? According to Fangraphs, his play the last four years has been worth just south of $66 million. During that period, he made just over $35 million. That is a pretty sweet deal. Betemit, Marquez and Nunez, the guys he was traded for, have been a combined major league worth of 1.3 rWAR. Swisher has been worth 11.3 rWAR as a Yankee. Fangraphs has his Yankee years at 15.3 fWAR. Either way, that is a terrific player. No, he is not elite. He’ll never be one of the top ten in the league. But, how good he has been has been understated.

Any conversation about Swisher and his days as a Yankee will forever be colored by his post seasons. Many are justifying the Yankees in this outcome because of Swisher’s futility in the playoffs.  In 181 playoff appearances (he had some before his Yankee days), Swisher’s post season triple slash line is: .169/.283/.305. And yes, those are unfortunate numbers. Despite all the good he did in New York, people will point to those numbers.

What people don’t understand is that the playoffs are a random small sample event. Derek Jeter has had a full season of post season at bats and as such, they even out to his normal production numbers. If you look at Jeter’s post season record, he had some clunker post seasons too. But he had enough post seasons to balance it all out. Swisher did not. You might argue that 181 plate appearances is a large sample size, but it is not and if you break it down into four smaller subsets of sample size, Swisher’s lack of post season heroics can be a little more understood.

And there is also the old notion that it took players like Nick Swisher to get the Yankees to the post season in the first place.

But the numbers are the numbers. And they have already told a tale of a very good Yankee player who played far above his paycheck for four years. Beyond that, he was terrific with the fans and did a tremendous amount of charity work. People around the country either hate or love Nick Swisher. There are not too many in-betweens. Those who hate him see him a a DB who likes to be noticed. But many of us know Swisher as a player who really understood that baseball is a game and very few people get to play their childhood game for a living. Nick Swisher enjoys the ride. He smells the roses. He laughs. He roars. Many of us, including my wife, enjoyed the heck out of that.

I take no pleasure in being right way back in February. This has been a terrible off season for those of us who expect the Yankee brass to do its best to improve the team. Martin was not given an offer. And now Swisher was not given an offer. Two productive players, one more valuable because of his defense and the other for his all-around game. But we all know that 2014 is the new Mayan Apocalypse, right? It’s really hard to say this and to type it, but two days before Christmas, the Yankees have lost Jolly Old Nick. Take care Swish. Most of us are glad you got the paycheck you earned.

About William Tasker

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at since 2003.

36 thoughts on “Jolly Old Nick

  1. I am glad that Cleveland is paying for the heart of Swish's career — that the Yankees got.

    Oh..and I for one am going to miss all of those runners that Martin threw out..and all of the passed balls he prevented…oh, wait..

    • Then I'm sure you'll enjoy the Romine, Cervelli, Stewart era. Hey, that could work out…

  2. It is a slow and sometimes painful process to retool an aging team. Nick Swisher is 32 years old. It is reasonable to assume that he will not get any better over the next four seasons. Russell Martin, while a good catcher and probably someone they maybe should have retained, at the same time has seen his offensive numbers regress every year for the past several. It is entirely likely that within three years the same people who are lamenting management's moves now will be singing their praises when a younger team emerges, supplemented by talent that can be bought for less than it would be if the previous level of spending were allowed to continue. It will be entertaining to watch the Dodgers, Angels and other spendthrifts experience the pain that the Yankees felt from 1982 through 1992 as their high priced acquisitions age and fail to produce the anticpated results. I'm willing to allow this to play out and see where it takes us. Hey, I could be wrong, too. Just don't think I am.

    • Yeah, the Yankees are ancient. No doubts about that. But 32 is like a newborn on this team. Heh.

  3. William, I am sorry to see Little Nicky go too, but I don't have the same feelings about Martin. We can easily find plenty of catchers who can hit below the Mendoza Line next season and I am one of the few people who anticipate two superb seasons from Ichiro in right field. I won't miss Swisher's "Adventures in Fly Balls."

    And I don't feel or understand all the gloom and doom about the Yankees off-season – I understand what they are trying to do, and I fully support it. When I think of all the terrible money deals given out in the last ten years (Pavano? Burnett?) or more (Brown? Johnson?), I honestly believe that the biggest drawback to this whole "debacle" of an off-season has been the Yankees publicly selling the idea that they are trying to get under the 189 mark in 2014. For a franchise that is making MAJOR bank, the cost savings proposition is not only pernicious, but downright bad PR. What I would have swallowed a little easier would be the argument that they are preparing the ground for a whole new crop of home-grown talent to emerge. It might have raised a ruckus as well, but it would have been an argument with greater merit and would have received much greater understanding and sympathy.

    I am happy to root for a perennial contender and my hometown team through thick and thin. The Jays have not purchased a pennant anymore than the Dodgers did this year, or Anaheim last year, or Boston did two years ago. Vegas predictions don't win the World Series and neither will the Jays.

    And I hope the newest crop of Yankees champions are a year or two away and that we might enjoy another 15-20 years of winning baseball in the Bronx.

    Lastly, let me take a moment to say thank you. It's been a great year reading your stuff. Having your blog and twitter to pay attention to each day has made being a Yankees fan just that much better, even if I have harassed you at times for your vocal opinions – especially when they run counter to my way of seeing things. It's been great fun and I'm looking forward to another wonderful year ahead with your writing!

    My best to you and yours this holiday season.


    • What a nice series of comments, James. Thanks so much. I agree the PR angle has been awful. My own fan journey started in 1965, so I've hung in there to my fair share of bad teams. I don't demand a World Series win every year. I do enjoy some crafty dealing from a front office. Somehow, I'm not sure gathering all the ancients for one more go-around is what we're looking for. I'll cheer them all on just as hard either way.

      My best to you too and yours.

  4. I'm a big Swisher fan, and I enjoyed seeing how much he enjoys being a professional baseball player, and I wish him well in Cleveland (just not against the Yankees!). That said, I think Cleveland overpaid and will regret years four and five of the contract. I agree with mscott above that Cleveland is paying for his Yankee career; better them than us.

    I think the next two years are going to be somewhere between difficult and really ugly for the team, given ownership's cost-cutting decision. But I also think the relief they will get from the luxury tax will be plowed back into the team in 2015 (assuming the Steinbrenners don't sell the team, that is).

    • "That said, I think Cleveland overpaid and will regret years four and five of the contract. "

      But this is roughly how free agent contracts are *supposed* to work. If you shy away from anyone you feel like you may regret having for the last year or two of the deal, you're going to have an awfully hard time building a winning team unless you have a really good player development program.

      • That's how they often work in practice (cough — A-Rod — cough). That's not how they *should* work. In a rational free market, each player should be evaluated on his expected contribution and paid accordingly. I don't think Swisher is going to be worth $14 million in 2016.

  5. "Swisher was going to be the fourth outfielder."

    Whoa, Swisher was going to be the regular first baseman. It wasn't until later in the offseason, when Mark Teixeira came over, that Swisher gained the fourth outfielder tag.

  6. Since I am not one to cry in my beer over what could've or should've been and since not a red cent came out of my pocket or went into my pocket over what the Yankees do or don't do, all I can be is optimistic. The Yankees made the playoffs 15 out of 16 times and won the World Series 5 times during those 16 years! Name me another team that has done that, present or past. I don't know about you, but I would have to be pretty selfish to think it could just go on, and on, and on. I think we will have a lean year or two to deal with, but I certainly don't think it will be the CBS era again. If you don't like what the Yankees are doing, you could always become a (insert any of at least 10 teams that would long for at least one playoff appearance) fan. One thing I would like to mention when it comes to post-season performance at the plate – as a batter, you are usually up against the best pitching MLB has to offer. What's the saying, "pitching wins over hitting" or something like that? Anyway, Happy Holidays to all. God bless IIATMS and God bless the New York Yankees!

  7. One correction is needed here. Nady was hurt in the Yankees' ninth game, his seventh game of the season.

  8. Good post, good site.

    I'm a big Swish fan, he plays with passion, gives his time to worthy causes (wounded warriors, etc), and has proven durable with a decent glove, releases the ball quickly, and has power with the OBP skill which is rare. He is a guy you can 2nd or 6th. Plus, his wife is hot.

    On the flip side, he throws Damon-like, hired Boras, made some bad comments in the postseason and we have 3 kids (Tyler- Slade-Mason) that are raking and are two years (or so) away. You list Jeter as having some bad postseason years, but i highly doubt he had four total, let alone striging those together. Bonds, Albert, etc all failed in postseasons, but if anything they had much greater pressure on them than Swish; as they were their stars.

    • Hiring Boras never wins with me but I'm a big fan of his cheerful approach. Re the postseason comments: if Nick Swisher of all players ever said to me I'd upset him with my negative attitude toward him, I'd listen rather than decry him for it.

  9. Swisher and Martin are not a big deal. Neither did much of anything in the post-season where the Yankess success is determined. Swisher wasn't a very good outfielder and a so-so hitter while Martin is a lousy hitter and a slightly above average catcher……we could do better.

    • So-so is among the top 3-4 hitters on a team stacked with all-star hitters? I'd hate to see what you think a good hitter is.

      • Swisher is a career .256 hitter and had his 'career' year in 2010 at age 29 when he hit .288……it is all downhill from here for him. If you think he is a 'good' hitter you have not followed baseball very long………

        • Batting average? Did you never move on from the RBI Baseball days?

          So by your logic, batting an empty .300 with no walks is more valuable than .250 with a .350+ obp? With that attitude you could run the Royals and do just as well!

    • " Neither did much of anything in the post-season where the Yankess success is determined."

      If the Yankees don't make the postseason, the silver lining will be seeing this line die. Hopefully.

      • This line should never die, every team should be measured by the same high bar….unless you like rooting for a team that sucks…

      • Yehhh, I mean why hold a player accountable who has 4 consecutive pathetic postseasons and then has the nerve to whine about the fans turning on him after giving him pass after pass for the first 3 years…

        Seriously, I like Swish we all understand the players dont typically hit as well in the postseason as they do in the regular season and it's a small sample size… but he failed, bottom line… it's on his yankee resume and it SHOULD be on his yankee resume

  10. The Jeter example is moronic…

    Go back and watch the 1996 and 1997 postseasons… dude was having good at bats from the start.. a much better example would be Jorge Posada… who didn't hit up to his regular season numbers in the postseason but was an underrated contributor overall and seemed to get more comfortable in the postseason later in his career

    • Jeter had bad post seasons in 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2010 and 1998 wasn't very good either.

      • And 2007, from my recollection, was atrocious. Off hand I remember commenting to my (now) wife that he had more GIDP than hits in that series with Cleveland, though I don't recall if I meant that literally or was just being hyperbolic.

        • Yeh, and loads of GOOD postseasons in between….

          It's a terrible example… again, Posada is the right example… he didn't hit great in the postseason but he was so valuable in the regular season, and the quality of at bats in the postseason seemed to get better as he got older even though he was *declining*

          THATS what you were hoping for if you were on the "bring back Swisher" bandwagon

          • Which proves the point that its entirely random, and not predictive of future postseason performance. Last time I checked, Jeter's playoff triple slash is nearly identical to his career's. Most believers in playoff performance are willfully ignorant of this.

          • Jeter had a regular season and post season wRC+ of 122 and 121, respectively. Good ol' captain clutch. While we're on careers, crazy to think that he cost the team 135 runs in defense, compared to an average SS says fangraphs. Crazy.

  11. i liked martin a lot but i think he ducked the public backlash most others would have received because he was really intense on the field…he brought a ny attitude to the stadium every day, which stood out big time from the corporate and unemotional guys like jeter/hip-rod…he showed the emotion the fan base has, just not necessarily the players…his numbers weren't good at all, but his attitude sure was

    • ummm, what emotion to the the fans who actually ATTEND yankee games show??? None, it's the most dead baseball crowd I've ever seen, it takes the 9th inning of a playoff game to get anyone out of their seat

      This isn't 1999

  12. One last point on this *forced* thread…

    There is a LOT we can get on the current Yankee ownership for… I don't respect them, you don't respect them… and we're losing our passion to support the team because of them, I agree with all that…

    But letting Nick Swisher sign a big money deal somewhere else should NOT be one of them… I think most fans realize this

    • "But letting Nick Swisher sign a big money deal"

      Wait, when did Swisher sign a big money deal?

  13. I enjoyed having Nick Swisher on the Yankees. he loves to play baseball and I don't mind him showing that. He was a productive hitter, home run slugger, on base machine, and a great teammate; someone the Yankees needed in the clubhouse. Just like Damon, Matsui and Ibanez, it was just time to go.

    and about the postseason numbers, nobody on the Yankees hit the last few years. Cano, Granderson, A-Rod, Teixeira…